Aaron Jones gets enough touches, but the Packers offense won't improve without better wide receiver play

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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LANDOVER, Maryland – Aaron Rodgers rolled right to buy time late in Sunday’s fourth quarter, spotted an open receiver streaking down the sideline, and for a moment the Green Bay Packers offense had a faint pulse.

Amari Rodgers had beaten Washington Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste deep, selling a stop-and-go to perfection. The second-year receiver was two steps past his defender as the football closed on him, a layup of a touchdown, but through seven games nothing has been easy for the Packers offense.

Instead of continuing his sprint to the end zone, Amari Rodgers dove. His quarterback's pass clanged off his hands. Aaron Rodgers failed to connect on another easy play, the kind that have become routine over the past 15 seasons.

“Of course (I have to make the catch)," Amari Rodgers said. "It hit my hands."

Packers wide receiver Amari Rodgers can't come up with a catch Sunday against the Commanders.

Five plays later, Rodgers pulled out a vintage play from nowhere. The quarterback scrambled left this time, guiding a pass to Aaron Jones down the left sideline. The running back did what almost no other Packers receiver can, jumping over safety Kamren Curl for a 21-yard touchdown. It was perhaps the toughest catch anybody on the Packers offense made in their 23-21 loss to the Commanders, a stark contrast to the gimme their former third-round pick couldn’t complete.

Amari Rodgers' drop of a would-be touchdown was one of many miscues for Packers offense

Not that what ails the Packers offense nearing the midway point of this slumping season mostly is Amari Rodgers’ fault. The young receiver simply hasn’t played enough snaps this season to warrant blame for the lack of production in the passing game. Amari Rodgers had plenty of company Sunday when it came to ineptitude, a plague that swept across the Packers receiving core in the nation’s capital.

“I mean, that was one play,” Aaron Rodgers said. “There were probably seven or eight other passes that could have been caught for sure. Right now, we’ve got to have all of them. Because we’re just not good enough to win without them.”

On the game’s initial third-down play, Allen Lazard broke open on a slant to move the chains but dropped his quarterback’s pass. Later in the first quarter, rookie Romeo Doubs dropped a screen pass on second-and-13. Even Jones dropped a screen pass in the second half, the one time in 10 targets Aaron Rodgers did not complete a throw to his tailback.

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones scores a touchdown against the Washington Commanders in the first quarter.

Aaron Jones was fed the ball early vs. Washington as Packers settle for short passing attempts

The Packers entered Sunday finally conceding to the reality of their offense. They gave the football to Jones as often as possible, including on the game’s first four plays. While Jones finished with just eight carries for 23 yards, his nine catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns led the offense. It was a misleading stat line, considering a handful of Jones’ receptions were short flips near the line of scrimmage, effectively an extension of the run game.

Still, that indicated what has become this offense’s biggest problem two months into the season. It’s hard to be a competent offense in today’s NFL when a running back is your best receiver.

“You’ve got to make them pay when they load the box,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “Throw the ball over their head.”

The Packers, perhaps learning from experience, rarely attempted a deep shot Sunday. Aaron Rodgers targeted a receiver more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage just twice, including his incompletion to Amari Rodgers. On the first, his pass to Sammy Watkins was so overthrown, the officials picked up a penalty flag on what would have been a blatant passing interference – if the football was catchable. Watkins wouldn’t have caught up to his quarterback’s throw if he was riding one of the Lime scooters zooming around downtown Washington D.C.

It’s no surprise the Packers passing game is lagging. When general manager Brian Gutekunst traded Davante Adams on St. Patrick’s Day, this was always a possibility. The Packers hoped second-round pick Christian Watson would blossom as a rookie, but hamstring injuries have derailed him. Watkins, the veteran, was activated Sunday from injured reserve after missing four games with a pulled hamstring.

Aaron Rodgers says Packers are making 'too many mental mistakes'

In that time, Jones has become perhaps their best receiver. Through three quarters Sunday, Aaron Rodgers completed just one pass to anyone other than Jones and Allen Lazard.

“Outside of those two guys,” the quarterback said, “there’s too many mental mistakes. I talked about simplification last week. I don’t really know where to go when it comes to that. There has to be something inside that has accountability for performance where we’re just having way too many detailed mistakes. It’s just not winning football.

“It could be a total wrong route, or it could be the wrong stem, or it could be the wrong release. We’re just not good enough to overcome some of those things right now.”

Rodgers said he believes in the talent on this Packers roster. It just hasn’t shown up consistently. The quarterback believes it is self-inflicted mistakes preventing that.

More:The Packers are on life support after another poor offensive performance, other takeaways

Vote:How do you think the Green Bay Packers played against the Washington Commanders? Vote in our ratings.

Will Brian Gutekunst trade for a wide receiver?

Of course, youth breeds inconsistency. Doubs isn’t going to age overnight. Watson’s hamstring isn’t going to magically heal. To save this sinking ship after the first three-game losing streak since Matt LaFleur became head coach in 2019, Gutekunst might have no choice but looking for help outside.

The Packers fixed their most glaring weakness Sunday, remaking their offensive line. With four linemen in different positions than a week ago, Rodgers took just one hit all day. He wasn’t sacked once. It wasn’t enough to salvage the offense, even running it through Jones.

Terry McLaurin celebrates after catching a 37-yard touchdown reception during the third quarter of the game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at FedEx Field.

So long as Jones remains their only consistent playmaker, the Packers will struggle to put points on the board. In 2022, an NFL offense needs balance between the run and pass for either to work. For that, the Packers might have no choice but to trade for a receiver before the league’s Nov. 1 deadline.

That the Packers were torched in big moments on the other side by Washington receiver Terry McLaurin served as cold irony. McLaurin showed what a top receiver means for an offense, catching five passes for 73 yards and a 37-yard touchdown against cornerback Jaire Alexander. On third-and-9 before the 2-minute warning, McLaurin caught a 12-yard pass from backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, the backbreaker.

The irony wasn’t lost on former Packers tight end Jace Sternberger. In 2019, Gutekunst drafted Sternberger with the 75th overall pick in the third round. One pick later, Washington drafted McLaurin.

“I can’t believe,” Sternberger tweeted after the game, “the Packers didn’t draft McLaurin.”

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